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Draft Day Strategy: Auction Tips

Derek VanRiper

Derek is the Director of Media for RotoWire.com, where he's been a two-time finalist for the FSWA's Baseball Writer of the Year award, and winner of the Best Football Article on the Web (2009) and Best Baseball Article on the Web (2010) awards. Derek also co-hosts RotoWire's shows on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (XM 87, Sirius 210).

Advocates of auctions often cite similar reasons for preferring the format over traditional snake drafts. An auction allows an opportunity for any team to acquire any player – whereas the owner with the 10th overall pick in a draft this spring will not have an opportunity to own Bryce Harper. That flexibility alone is often enough to convince a group of owners to try an auction for the first time, and there are few instances where a league goes back to a snake draft after making the switch.

The rigors of draft day change considerably when you are forced to think in terms of dollars and budgets, rather than simply filling the spots on your roster one at a time when your turn comes up every few minutes. Whether you are going to participate in an auction for the first time this season, or you have been trying your hand at them with varying levels of success for years, there are always opportunities to refine your approach with the hope of coming away with the best roster possible on Day 1.

Map Out Your Projections and Dollar Values in Advance

The fast-paced nature of auctions will require that you make decisions in a matter of seconds regardless of whether you want to bid on a particular player. Without having a clear understanding of what each player in the pool can offer you – both in terms of dollars earned and in categorical terms – it is easy to subject yourself to additional errors along the way. If you determine that Clayton Kershaw is a $44 player in your auction ahead of time, you won’t fall prey to spending excessively when your league mates are overpaying for top-tier talent early on. This approach will prove beneficial throughout the auction, especially with highly-coveted sleeper types. If you determine that Raisel Iglesias is worth $11 in your league for 2016, you are much less likely to fall into a bidding war.

For my auctions, I have used the RotoWire Draft Kit app on my iPad for several years. The app generates customized dollar values and rankings based on your league parameters, and makes it very easy to track the purchase of each player in real-time as your auction unfolds. Whether you prefer a tablet, laptop, magazine, or printed lists of your own, have the values you trust the most laid out in the format of choice before you walk into the room on draft day.

Be Aggressive with Your Bidding

Another major benefit of being well prepared with your dollar values before the auction begins is the added potential to jump bid. Many auctions will have owners who start the bidding on each player at an amount well below the expected selling price. When a player value starts off low, and is bid up only in small increments, the amount of time for every owner in the room to rationally think about the potential value of the player increases. By pushing up the cost of players rapidly, you can increase the pressure on other owners in the room. When that happens, you may benefit by getting a player cheaper than expected, or by steering competitors into a bidding war.

As a guide, I often jump a player to at least 75 percent of his projected value on my first bid, assuming that it’s a point early in the auction when I have plenty of budget left. For example, if Manny Machado is nominated at $10, and I have him valued at $33, I will immediately push the bid to $25 and then gradually get closer to my $33 ceiling from there. As the auction progresses and my budget dries up, I tend to jump players to a price that is between 40-50 percent of their projected value.

Nominate Players with a Purpose

There are plenty of justifiable reasons to nominate a particular player at any given time. Nominating an elite closer early can shape the market for other top-tier relief arms. Later in the auction, nominating one of the remaining high-priced players even when you are unable to pay up for that player can be an effective way to draw money out of the pocket of a rival owner. In many instances, calling out the name of a player you have no interest in purchasing can simply buy a minute or two to gather your thoughts, calculate your progress with category targets, or scan your projections to determine your next player to target.

Monitor Price Trends Carefully

Depending on the timing of when players are nominated, and how much money is still left in the room, prices can be wildly unpredictable during an auction. There are many instances, however, when there is a run of similar players priced within a few dollars of each other. For example, imagine that you have John Lackey, Scott Kazmir, Jeff Samardzija, and Collin McHugh each projected to earn $8 in your league. If within a matter of 10-15 players sold, Lackey, Kazmir, and Samardzija all cost $12 or more, and you believe that McHugh is a great fit for your team, waiting longer to nominate him is prudent.

Just as a trend may lead you away from nominating a particular player, it may lead you to a nomination that allows you to save a few dollars. Two years ago in the Mixed Tout Wars auction, I had determined my price for Mike Trout to be $59. When Paul Goldschmidt sold for $39 immediately before it was my turn to nominate a player, I knew I had to put Trout on the block. While Goldschmidt’s price wasn’t a guarantee of getting a price break on Trout, it seemed very unlikely he could command $10 more than the D-backs’ first baseman. I ended up with Trout at $46 – a cool $13 below my projected price for that season.

This article appears in the 2016 RotoWire Fantasy Baseball Guide. Order the magazine here!